WASHINGTON - "Let that monkey ride," one baseball fan shouted as Tim Lepard and his monkey Sam made their way onto the field Friday night during a Frederick Keys baseball game.
Anticipation mounted while fans waited for a monkey from South Africa to take the field. The Cowboy Monkey Rodeo, a Mississippi-based entertainment group, came to town for one night only, and with it came laughter, protesters and three trained monkeys named Sam, Belle Star and Bubba.
Sam was first on the field. He threw a ceremonial first pitch with some help from Blaine Young, who dubbed Friday's game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans "Fredneck night" at Harry Grove Stadium.
Young's company, Yellow Cab of Frederick, purchased a fireworks show for fans, and baseball management paid for a monkey rodeo.
"We are back to our farming spirit," said baseball fan Todd Crum as Sam emerged onto the field riding a dog named Bob. "They should bring cows out here."
Crum, a Frederick native, said bringing animals to the stadium served as a good reminder of the county's agricultural roots.
"It's a part of Frederick County," Crum said.
He clapped along with 6,000 other fans after Sam lobbed a regulation baseball onto the ground -- Friday night was only the third time the monkey had thrown a first pitch during a minor league baseball game.
The first time was in Texas -- it took Sam about three weeks to learn.
"This is a spectacle," said John Robert Buell, a baseball fan from Mount Airy who could not help but smile when Sam took the field again after the third inning.
This time, Sam was joined by other animals as part of the act. Sam led the way as another monkey riding a dog helped to herd a few sheep in the outfield. They performed again after the sixth inning, bringing fans to their feet again.
"The monkey rodeo is the best thing I have ever seen," Buell said, smiling.
But not everyone agreed. A few protesters gathered outside for a demonstration before the rodeo got started. They said Friday's show violated the animals' rights.
"Keep the Keys cruelty free," one protester's sign said.
A few baseball fans took handouts from protesters before the game, but most did not have a problem with the show.
"I prove them wrong," Lepard said. "Anything they say, I prove them wrong."
The Frederick Keys invited Lepard to Friday's game after learning about the show being performed at another minor league baseball park. Baseball management said bringing the rodeo to town was something for fans and they took no issue with the show that created a buzz among players.
Frederick Keys pitchers Dylan Bundy and Andy Loomis wanted a sneak peek before the game began Friday, so they paid a visit to Lepard's trailer, where the monkeys and dogs are housed.
"We wanted to check it out before everybody else," Bundy said after meeting Sam, Bubba and Belle Star.
Bundy and Loomis were also introduced to Lepard's border collies, Rod, Bob and Dot, who have appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" and ESPN's "SportsCenter."
This summer, Lepard and his animals will travel to 41 states as part of a tour. They have already performed in 27 minor league baseball cities, where Lepard has run into a few glitches along the way.
During Friday night's game, a few animals got loose and management had to postpone Lepard's final act.
"That's one thing we have learned in Frederick, Maryland: Don't leave the gate open," Lepard told the crowd.
Even though the act was slightly delayed, thousands of baseball fans stuck around for the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo.
"Let them monkeys ride," Crum shouted.